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Ballerina: A Novel

Ballerina: A Novel

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Ballerina: A Novel

3.5/5 (5 valutazioni)
681 pagine
9 ore
Feb 18, 2014


Before Black Swan, there was Ballerina: Edward Stewart’s acclaimed novel that follows two young women into the cutthroat world of professional dance
Stephanie Lang and Christine Avery meet in ballet school. Although they share the same dream—to become great dancers—they could not be more different. Ballet is in Stephanie’s blood; her mother, Anna, is a former dancer who lives to see her daughter achieve the fame she herself never attained. Christine has lived a sheltered life, secure in the love of her family. But her privileged upbringing conceals a devastating secret.
Two teenage dancers, one chance to make it. From the thrill and terror of auditions through years of meticulous training to landing a coveted spot in a professional company, Stephanie and Christine relentlessly pursue their ambitions. As they give their all to dance, they become inseparable—until they are torn apart by their passion for the same man, a brilliant Russian dancer whose seductive, mercurial temperament will have unforeseen consequences for them all.  
Feb 18, 2014

Informazioni sull'autore

Edward Stewart (1938­–1996) grew up in New York City and Cuba. He was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy and at Harvard, where he edited the famed Lampoon humor magazine. He studied music in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, and worked as a composer and arranger before launching his career as a writer. His first novel, Orpheus on Top, was published in 1966. He wrote thirteen more novels, including the bestselling Vince Cardozo thrillers Privileged Lives, Jury Double, Mortal Grace, and Deadly Rich.

Correlato a Ballerina

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Anteprima del libro

Ballerina - Edward Stewart



ANNA LANG FIDGETED IN her eighth-row-center seat. She squinted at her watch. In two minutes and thirty seconds the curtain would go up on Act One of The Sleeping Beauty. In eight minutes her little girl would be an international star.

Tonight was the answer to all Anna Lang’s prayers. Tonight was the reward for all her struggles.

And Anna Lang was scared stiff.

The last bell sounded. Stragglers came drifting back to their seats. At two hundred and fifty dollars a ticket, you didn’t hurry. The theater was packed with society, ballet potentates, celebrities. Conversation buzzed like a hive of excited hornets.

The house lights dimmed. Anna pulled in her knees to let people squeeze past. A jeweled dowager glanced at her curiously, probably wondering why she was alone, why she’d spent intermission in her seat.

I’ll tell you why, Mrs. Whoever-you-are: because it’s taken me a lifetime to get this far, and I’m not taking any chances on slippery stairs or falling chandeliers. This is the moment I’ve lived my life for, and I’m damned well going to stay alive for it.

The Prologue had gone smoothly. The whispers in Anna’s vicinity had been approving.

Stunning production.

Never saw them dance so well.

These people hadn’t seen anything yet. They hadn’t seen Stephanie Lang.

Anna peered again at her watch. She frowned. Either her watch had suddenly speeded up or Act One was late. She peered at the orchestra pit. Tips of bassoons, the curved necks and upper pegs of double basses, a golden sweep of harp jutted into visibility.

The musicians were ready.

The audience was ready.

What was holding up Act One?

The curtain fanned out and seemed to part slightly. Anna braced her feet against the floor, preparing herself for the announcement of some backstage disaster. The curtain dropped back, like lips that had been on the verge of whispering a secret and then lapsed again into silence.

Her dowager neighbor was still staring. Anna wondered if her hair was out of place or if she was sweating through her makeup. The dowager leaned across her escort and touched Anna’s hand. Anna smelled Joy.

Excuse me, aren’t you Anna Barlow?

Anna stared back. The woman was wearing two thousand dollars’ worth of Dior and five of Cartier, easily. She had a Palm Beach tan and a Beacon Hill accent and she probably had a Rolls-Royce waiting to take her home. And she remembered Anna Barlow.

I used to be, Anna said, smiling.

And didn’t you dance with … ? The woman threw a nod toward the stage, toward the curtain that still hadn’t budged.

I used to dance with them, yes. Long time ago.

The couple introduced themselves, somebody-or-other Dickerson. They said they’d been balletomanes for years and asked what Anna thought of tonight’s gala.

I’m biting my nails, waiting for my little girl to come on.

Your little girl? Mrs. Dickerson said, fascinated.

Stephanie Lang. She’s dancing Aurora. You’ll see her in this act. If they ever get that damned curtain up, Anna thought.

She squinted again at her watch. Three minutes late.

Someone in the third ring began clapping and someone shushed, but the clapping broke through the shush barrier. In fifteen seconds the gala audience had turned into a carnival mob. The theater vibrated like a prison on the brink of rebellion. Every nerve in Anna’s body screamed: Get that curtain up!

Suddenly, mercifully, the house lights dimmed down. A follow spot picked out the conductor’s white-fringed head and tracked him to the podium. The clapping became generous, forgiving.

Anna tried to relax.

She sat through the orchestral prelude. The curtain hissed up and she sat through the scene with the three crones and their spinning wheels. She sat through the dance of the peasant girls and she wondered how the hell Tchaikovsky could have crammed so many repeats into one little waltz.

A spot clicked on, stage right, and Anna’s hands readied to applaud Aurora’s entrance. There was absolute silence in the theater and absolute stillness on the stage. And one empty spot Anna’s throat tightened.

Aurora stepped onstage. The audience burst into applause.

Anna did not applaud. She sat frozen in a rush of shock. It’s the light, she thought. I’m crazy.

But she wasn’t crazy. What she saw on that stage was a million times worse than any empty spotlight. She shot to her feet, pushed her way past jutting knees and surprised faces. She ran up the aisle, stumbled. She picked herself up off the carpet, ignored the stares, kept running.

What’s the fastest way backstage from here?

The speechless usherette managed to point.

Anna plunged down the deserted corridor. Her heart was pounding and the walls rippled past like water. It was happening exactly as it had happened twenty years ago. She was drowning, drowning all over again, and she knew from what she’d just seen on that stage that this time nothing could save her.


IT WAS FIVE YEARS ago that Anna had brought Steph to New York.

The doorman was one of those Fifth Avenue snots, didn’t want to let them wait. Anna said they were friends of Mrs. Amidon’s, which she was, and they were expected, which they weren’t, and she marched Steph over to the bench and sat her down.

The doorman kept watching as though they’d try to steal the potted palm.

They waited a half hour. Steph kept pressing her feet against the floor, second position, first position, fifth. Anna began to wonder if she should have phoned. No. On the phone Dorcas would have turned her down.

A woman came into the lobby leading a white terrier on a leash. Dorcas Amidon—still crisp, still brisk, still young. She didn’t so much as glance at Anna and Steph. She pushed the elevator button and frowned at the gold sliver of a watch on her wrist.

Suddenly Anna felt scared. Her dress was a J. C. Penney pattern. She’d made it herself on the Singer. Did she dare talk to this woman in tailored silk?

She had to. For Steph.

Dorcas! Hi!

Anna waved and sprang to her feet.

Dorcas stared, blank and astonished. The terrier growled and pawed tile.

I’m sorry, Dorcas said, you must be mistaken.

It’s me. Anna. Anna Lang.

Still no reaction.

"Anna Barlow Lang."

Dorcas gasped. Her teeth were tiny and perfectly even and every one of them looked real. Anna—darling! You’ve changed—

They hugged.

Well, I’m a little older, Anna said. And I can tell you, I’ve had my ups and downs. But you’re looking just great. I love your hair.

The hair was softly waved chestnut; not a fleck of gray. The skin was pale and unlined. Boy, the things you could do with money nowadays. Dorcas Amidon didn’t look a day older than when Anna had walked out of NBT.

Why, thank you. Dorcas’ eyes shifted a degree. And who’s this young lady?

This is my daughter Stephanie.

Anna gave Steph a little nudge forward. Steph’s dress was store-bought, manufacturer’s close-out from Lerner’s. It was pale green, simple, but it looked expensive on her. Everything looked expensive on Steph. She had a dancer’s posture.

Marty’s little girl? Dorcas cried.

Marty’s and mine.

Dorcas fluttered out a hand. Anna counted a diamond and two rubies. "How do you do, Stephanie? I knew your father. She hesitated. Do you two have a moment to come upstairs?"

We have a moment, Anna said. Sure.

They rode up in the oak-paneled elevator. Some building. Even the elevator man had air conditioning. Dorcas sifted through the mail in a cloisonné bowl on the foyer table. She unleashed the dog and handed the leash to the maid. They went into the living room.

The dove-gray walls were like a backdrop for one of Dorcas’ dance galas, setting off ripe plum chairs and sofas, mahogany tables dotted with crystal and silver and cut flowers. There were carved glass fishes on the marble mantelpiece. A pyramid of birch logs had been laid across brass andirons. You could have parked a car in that fireplace.

Wow, Anna said.

Coffee? Dorcas offered.

Terrific, Anna said. She could stretch a cup of coffee to ten minutes’ discussion or better.

Steph was looking around the enormous room. Her little nose crinkled. It’s beautiful here, she said quietly.

Thank you, Dorcas said. But I don’t know about that rug.

The rug looked fine to Anna: a few thousand dollars fine. The maid brought coffee. They sat, and Dorcas poured.

Are you visiting New York? she asked.

Visiting? Anna laughed. This nuthouse? No, we moved here. Yesterday.

Dorcas handed Anna her coffee. The white china cup seemed dangerously thin, like the top of a newborn baby’s skull.

Why? Dorcas said. Did you get tired of Cincinnati?

Cincinnati was seventeen years ago. Don’t ask the cities we’ve been—Wichita, Sioux City—would you believe Butte, Montana? Mining town. One breath and there’s soot on your nose.

But why New York? Dorcas said.

There’s nowhere else. Not for dance.

You’re still—dancing?

Me? Relax. I’m teaching exercise at Arden’s. Starting Monday. Stephanie’s the dancer in the family now.

Dorcas stretched smoothly to hand Steph a cup. Anna couldn’t see an ounce of flab on the upper arm. A few sun freckles, but those would fade in the fall.

You dance, Stephanie? Where?

That depends, Anna said. We’re keeping our fingers crossed. She auditions tomorrow.

Is that so.

We’re staking a lot on that audition, Anna said.

Is that wise?

You tell us. You’re judging, aren’t you?

"Stephanie’s auditioning for us?" Dorcas sipped.

Frankly, we’re hoping she’ll get a scholarship. The tuition’s murder at New York Ballet School. I couldn’t swing it on my own. No way. Anna shuddered.

There aren’t many scholarships these days. Funding is very tight.

Maybe you could put in a good word. We’d appreciate it. After all, Dorcas was on the boards of the school and of NBT. It wasn’t any skin off her knuckles.

Dorcas stirred her coffee. I’m afraid my word doesn’t carry much weight. I’m only one vote out of four.

I thought you ran those auditions.

It’s gotten a little large for one woman to handle. Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefous will be helping at the finals.

And who’s the fourth judge?


Anna jerked forward. Volmar? But how can he? Isn’t he busy running NBT?

Dorcas looked down at her hands, smooth and narrow and peaceful in the pale blue folds of her skirt. He’s running a great many things. You must know he advises the President’s council for the arts. He’s a powerful man.

Anna considered the implications of Volmar’s judging her daughter. He’s not doing so well with the critics. That Chabrier Symphony thing got creamed.

He didn’t choreograph the Chabrier, Mom, Steph said softly. He only staged it.

It still got creamed. So how is Volmar? Does he still hate me?

Dorcas tipped her head to the side. Chestnut waves spilled. I can’t imagine anyone’s hating you, Anna. Especially with such a lovely daughter.

Anna was worried now but she managed to smile. She felt proud of the little girl sitting so straight and pretty and calm in the big maroon armchair.

Now you’ve got me thinking, Dorcas. Maybe Steph should change her name for that audition. Volmar might not like the sound of ‘Lang.’

Don’t be silly. Marius loved Marty. We all did.

Anna took a swallow. The coffee was much too strong. Maybe it was her nerves.

I still remember Marty’s Albrecht, Dorcas was saying. Those lifts in the Act Two adagio. He made Hildie soar.

"If anyone could make her soar, Marty could. He had muscle."

Dorcas angled toward Steph. Did you ever see your father dance, dear?

I wish I had.

Anna looked at her daughter and suddenly it struck her that Steph’s spoon was in her saucer. Dorcas’ spoon was in her saucer. Anna’s spoon was not. She took it out of her cup. It was a tiny silver spoon with a twisting thread of a handle. She laid it in the saucer, softly so it didn’t clink.

Steph’s father died when she was eleven months old, Anna said. She can’t even remember him. To her he’s just a name and some photographs.

Steph’s eyes seemed to retract suddenly, to examine distant objects one by one—the long black Steinway piano, the mysteriously lit shelves of pearl-colored vases built into the wall, two sofas, deep and silken and curving, placed near the terrace doors. For no reason at all Anna felt sad. She realized she would never be able to give her little girl anything as pretty as even an ash tray in this apartment.

It’s a pity, Dorcas said. "So many of our American danseurs nobles cut down in their prime. Now we have to import them all from Russia. You’ve seen Rudy Nureyev?"

Once, Anna said. Must have been one of his off nights.

You’d have thought Nureyev was a personal friend from the way Dorcas jaw hung open. It was Steph who broke the silence.

"Mother likes Edward Villella. We saw him in Prodigal Son."

"Now he’s a dancer, Anna said. Not just a show-off."

You danced the Siren for us, didn’t you? Dorcas asked Anna. As if she didn’t know.

A lot of walking if you ask me. Anna shrugged. Coffee spilled. Damn. She moved the saucer to her lap to cover the spot I wish I could have done that one with Villella.

It would have been stunning, Dorcas said. Eddy’s such a considerate partner. And you, Stephanie—whom do you like?

If you mean men, Anna said, she doesn’t know they exist.

Small spots of color flared up in Steph’s cheeks.

Whom do you prefer of the current male dancers, Stephanie? Dorcas asked.

There are so many good ones, Steph said.

Such as? In two minutes Dorcas got more opinions out of the girl than Anna had in two years. Nureyev was stunning, but who except Fonteyn could stand up to him? D’Amboise was god. Erik Bruhn was fantastic but on toe Steph was an inch too tall for him. Delibes didn’t score for male dancers as well as female. Anna had never thought of it that way. Then they were talking about Balanchine’s Stravinsky ballets, why Mr. B. hadn’t ever touched Sacre or Petrouchka.

Anna felt by-passed, left out. She sneaked a peek under the saucer, daubed at the stain with her napkin. She sat listening through another cup of coffee. Then Dorcas apologized and said she had to meet a woman from Texas for lunch—a terrible bore, but NBT was hoping she’d give sets for the gala.

Anna realized she hadn’t straightened out the question of the scholarship. She began to bring it up again, but Steph gave her an odd look and she stopped.

Dorcas bustled them into the foyer. Steph asked where the bathroom was. Now was Anna’s chance to settle that scholarship, but Dorcas kept talking and didn’t give her an opening.

What a perfect little lady. Did you send her to school?

Dance class since she was seven.

But did you send her away?

Why would I send her away? She’s a wonderful kid—never gives me any trouble.

You never remarried?

Are you kidding? Once around that dog track was enough for me. Anyway, I had my hands full.

How I admire you, Anna. How I admire you both.

Wait till you see her audition. That’ll really give you something to admire.

Dorcas took Anna’s hands. Darling—whatever happens—we’re friends now, aren’t we?

Of course we’re friends. Didn’t you get my Christmas cards?

I loved your Christmas cards.

Well, yours were nice too.

Steph was standing there. Dorcas wished her good luck and kissed her.

Going down in the elevator, Anna thought about Volmar and her stomach made a fist. Get some sleep tonight, honey. Tomorrow you’re going to knock those idiots dead.

Steph’s eyes worried Anna. Those studios had tall windows, natural light, and nothing made a face look more washed out. Anna sat Steph down in the hotel room and tried a few strokes of water-insoluble brown liner.

Steph pulled away. It’s an audition, I’m not supposed to wear stage make-up.

This isn’t stage make-up. It’s just so they’ll notice you a little better. Hold still.

Mom, it’s not a performance.

You got four hundred kids going against you for ten scholarships. Today’s a performance. You remember your variation?

Steph nodded. Anna had made her prepare a short solo with a gorgeous backward hop in arabesque. Maybe she’d need it, maybe she wouldn’t. Better safe than sorry.

These lids look like dropsy. Someday when we’re rich I’m going to give you surgery for Christmas.

Anna remembered her own auditions and she knew the traps. In the taxi she tested Steph.

They’ll shout combinations at you ten miles long. You have to remember and you have to be ready.

Anna made up combinations of steps. Steph tried to recite them back.

You won’t have time and you won’t have breath. Use your fingers—mark the combinations. It’s the only way they’ll stay with you.

Steph marked. When Anna made up crazy combinations Steph marked those too, which showed she was reacting, not thinking, and that was exactly what a dancer had to do.

They arrived at the school good and early. Anna knew auditions: you never had time to warm up. That was another of the traps. Steph was going to be warmed up and ready today. They went to the desk, where a receptionist gave Steph a piece of cardboard with two holes and a string.

Wear it around your neck. That’s your number.

The number was 32, which told Anna there were thirty-one little girls and thirty-one moms ahead of them. It looked more like eight million when they pushed through the door.

Where the hell are we going to warm you up? Anna muttered. Never mind. Go change. I’ll find somewhere.

Steph went to the girls’ dressing room. With nervous, fumbling fingers she changed clothes and put her number on. The girls who already had scholarships were watching the others. They seemed sleek and worldly and enviably grown up as they sipped coffee and smoked cigarettes, and slightly cruel as they talked, not caring if they were overheard.

Baby pink hand-knit—do you believe it?

Volmar hates leg warmers—he’d puke.

Steph’s leg warmers were green, machine-knit. She took them off anyway.

"Oh, God—she’ll never get in, not with that flouncy skirt."

Anna had bought Steph the flouncy skirt especially for the audition. But these girls knew the judges better than her mother, and Steph took the skirt off too.

Where’s your skirt? Anna cried.

I don’t want to wear it.

Twelve dollars and fifty cents and she didn’t want to wear it. And your leg warmers!

I don’t want the judges to see me in leg warmers.

Too late now to argue. Anna pulled Steph into the ladies’ room and slapped her hand down on the edge of the sink. "Profile to the mirror and plié. Come on. If you don’t stay warm you’ll never hold your turn-out"

Mom, you’re embarrassing me.

Anna tossed a nod at a girl who was warming up two sinks down. She’s not embarrassed, why should you be?

The other girl was so deep in concentration her eyes could have been fastened to her reflection with wires. She had hair a little less blond than Steph and eyes a little darker.

Anna clapped her hands, driving Steph through pliés and tendus. Girls dashed in and dashed out, peeing, washing hands, needing the sink, but Anna kept clapping and she kept her little girl warm right up till the moment the voice on the loudspeaker called, Numbers 1 through 40, rehearsal room 4.

That’s us. Now remember, don’t try to do it by watching the other girls. Half of them are wrong and the other half are copying someone else. Do exactly what the teacher says and do it fast. Anna pushed Steph through the mob and into rehearsal room 4. She waved good luck and Steph waved back.

The dance teacher had braced himself in the doorway. He tunneled the girls past with flicks of the hand, ready to block any momma or friend who tried to crash the audition. My God, Anna thought. Hugh Williams. Ballet Caravan. She’d seen him just after World War II in Til Eulenspiegel. So that’s what had happened to Hugh Williams: dyed hair and a mouth stitched into a tight little pout and he was running the cattle auction for NBT.

Anna wondered if Marty would have ended up like that. Fat chance.

And then she noticed the other girl going in too, the blonde from the bathroom, and she thought, Uh-oh, two blondes, same height, and that one has a better turn-out, why the hell couldn’t Steph have drawn a number over 40?

The teacher closed the door. He clapped his hands for attention.

"All right, boys and girls—excuse me, boy and girls—take your positions at the barres. Numerical order, please."

It took a half hour’s jostling and Steph could see the teacher getting more bored and more bad-tempered with each wasted minute. When numbers 1 through 40 were finally straight he put down his coffee and called the first exercise.

"Plié combination first second fourth fifth position. Reverse it yourselves." He snapped it out as though it were one word, almost too quickly to grasp. He did that on purpose, Steph realized. It was his revenge for the fumbled half hour.

The pianist oompahed the 2/4 plié rhythm. He obviously had a grudge against anything with a keyboard.

Ronds de jambe piled up on top of pliés—Reverse it yourselves! and then came the leg-stretching tendus. "Demi-plié, tendu devant, up, demi-plié in fourth, tendu, close." The teacher stalked up and down the barres. He had the disgusted look of a farmer inspecting rows of blighted corn.

"Battement right leg; open to side; balance à la seconde."

The battement—a fluttering movement of the foot, like beats of a bird’s wings—required speed, but most of the girls were up to it. It was at the first balance that candidates began failing. The floor thudded with falling bodies. Some girls could not let go of the barre. Others let go and had to grab it again. Some let go and staved off a fall only by a quick close into fifth position.

"Reverse into battement à la seconde; half pointe; bring legs together—"

The movements became complex now, and the dancers marked with their hands, pressing the directions into their memory.

"In fifth standing, soutenu into reverse."

Failures came more and more rapidly. Some girls did en dedans instead of en dehors, inward instead of outward. Some didn’t bring their legs up before the turn. Others brought them up after the rond de jambe and fell off their balance. Some got as far as the balance but couldn’t keep their turn-out.

Sweat was running into Steph’s eyes. Her center was wobbling and her leg muscles were screaming but she stayed balanced and she stayed turned out. The teacher’s eyes gave her a flick up and a flick down. He clapped.

"Girls put on pointe shoes, please."

As Steph was changing shoes a girl sat down beside her. Steph recognized the little blonde who had warmed up at the other sink in the ladies’ room. There was a sweetness in her expression that made Steph say, Hello. My name’s Steph. For Stephanie.

The girl looked at her and smiled. I’m Chris. For Christine. The number on her cardboard was 7. They were lacing up their shoes and there was no time to shake hands.

What a rush, Steph said. I’ve never auditioned before. What about you?

I’m not auditioning.

That baffled Steph. Then why are you here?

It’s a trick on my parents—kind of. They could pay to send me to school, only they don’t think ballet’s important. But if I’m good enough to win a scholarship they’ll change their minds and let me stay in New York. I hope.

All sorts of wondering went through Steph. It sounded nice to have two parents and to have rich parents. But parents who didn’t want you to dance sounded awful.

I’m sorry you have parents like that.

They’re all right—they’re just idiots when it comes to ballet.

I hope you make it.

"Thanks. I hope you make it too. Merde. It was bad luck to say Good luck" in ballet, so you said Merde instead, which was French for shit. Steph had learned that from her teachers. Chris pronounced the word as though she had studied French.

Merde, Steph said.

For center work the teacher divided the candidates into odds and evens. Steph was even. She watched the odds’ adagio, the slow, flowing movements. Some of the girls had flawless arabesques and extended their leg in développé straight to their ear.

I’m not that good, she thought, but when it came evens’ turn she tried harder than she’d ever tried in her life, and she was almost that good.

The teacher put them through pirouette combinations and the little jumps of petit allegro and the great leaps of grand allegro. Here’s where we separate the boy from the girls, he said, and he gave the girls fouettés and hops en pointe. Then it was the boy’s turn to do pirouettes à la seconde. The girls sat against the walls and watched.

It’s too bad he’s not better, Chris whispered.

It’s too bad he’s not even good-looking, Steph whispered.

He’ll pass, though, won’t he?

Sure. There are never enough boys in ballet school.

The audition went on an hour. The teacher consulted his notebook. Please step to the left as I call off your number.

He did not call off 7, and Steph felt a pang as Chris was left standing on the right. But he didn’t call off 28 either, and the boy stayed on the right, and he didn’t call off 32, and Steph was left with them. The teacher glanced at the larger group.

You may go.

And then at Chris and Steph and the boy and the twelve others standing on the right.

Come back Thursday, same time.

Thursday, on the reception desk, a huge sign with hasty-looking letters reminded visitors that points beyond were absolutely off limits. No one else paid it any attention; Anna didn’t see why she should.

She pressed past the desk with its one frantic attendant, squeezed through the churning mob. The narrow stairway opened onto a corridor of gray-carpeted walls with observation windows that looked down into the studios.

Coming through, please! Let me through! I’ve got a girl down there!

She pushed her way to a front position at the studio 3 window. Four free-standing barres had been placed like police barricades across the floor. Six dozen girls in tights and leg warmers were limbering up. All she could hear were the muffled strokes of a piano, fistfuls of the Pizzicato Polka from Sylvia that seemed to come from two blocks away.

Her eye searched for Steph.

A clear slanting sun fell through the windows, flattening the girls to silhouettes with bands of light flickering around the edges. They all looked the same. Anna squirmed to a better position, squinted down at the mirrored wall. Suddenly a movement at the center barre tugged her eye.

There she was!

That frail little girl all by herself, practicing quick, tiny jumps—that had to be Stephanie. Her golden hair was drawn back, fastened with a tortoise-shell barrette.

Anna could feel the child’s concentration, her hope and terror. She wished she could reach and touch her and whisper, It’ll be all right—you’ll make it! But it was a mother’s business to know such things—and to keep silent; for the moment, the girl needed all the terror she could muster.

It was beautiful to watch Steph’s feet. They fell so lightly, not even striking the floor, but skimming it like a breeze.

Now Steph stood free of the barre. Even with her hands on her hips, her arms were rounded, the hands continuing the delicate line. She relevé’d up onto the toe of the left foot. The right leg lifted and bent inward, the foot curving up to touch the left knee. How many students, Anna wondered, could curve their feet like that!

The arms extended up and out like arcing wings. Plié now—the body dipped, the supporting leg bent at the knee. The free leg whipped out to the right. The girl spun clockwise, full circle. Anna counted the fouettés: one, two, three …

Six fouettés! Six perfect fouettés—for practice!

Anna wished Volmar had seen that!

The dazzling blur that was Steph spun to a stop, came to rest in fourth position: right foot sur la pointe, left foot perfectly turned out, arms arched overhead with hands barely grazing fingertips.

The girl turned. Her profile was clear and sharp against the window.

Anna’s heart gave a painful thump against her ribs. It was not Steph, not her girl at all. It was that pug-nosed, chicken-breasted little creature who’d been hogging the other sink in the ladies’ room before audition.

It took a long moment for the shock to subside and then Anna was able to smile at her mistake. What a laugh, she thought. That kid would never make it. Terrible arms. No port de bras.

In studio 3, sixty-five girls and ten boys nervously warmed up for the final audition. The barres were overflowing with dancers, and anything else that could stand still was pressed into service—the piano, chairs, window sills, even girls and boys offering shoulders and hands to one another. The room was a jungle of stretching limbs and bending torsos and waving arms and bodies that popped twirling into the air.

On the stroke of ten the door opened.

Through the jungle, clearing a narrow path of stillness, came the judges, single file. They took their places on wooden chairs in the front of the room, blocking the mirror.

Who’s that? Chris pointed unobtrusively.

Dorcas Amidon, Steph said. She’s on the board.

The two girls recognized the others from photographs: Marius Volmar, whose face seemed to relax naturally into a scowl; and Jean-Pierre Bonnefous and Patricia McBride, the husband-and-wife team from New York City Ballet—he was even handsomer than his pictures; she had a girlish beauty and a kind smile, yet neither of them looked as though they wasted a minute or a judgment.

"I never believed they were real," Chris whispered.

I still don’t, Steph said. She could feel waves of authority radiating from the four. Nervousness began creeping up from her feet.

A dapperly dressed man strode to the front of the room.

He’s the dance master with NBT, Chris whispered. "There was an article on him in Dance News. He’s supposed to be a real terror."

He looked like a terror, Steph thought. He did not need to clap his hands or clear his throat for attention. His very posture, the energy focused through his narrow eyes, commanded silence; and the silence crushed the room. He introduced the judges, thanking McBride and Bonnefous for volunteering their time and expertise.

The candidates applauded. Steph felt odd, as though she were applauding her own executioner.

The candidates were divided into groups of fifteen. Those not auditioning sat against the walls, watching the routine and marking it. From the very first plié Steph could tell today was going to be tough.

Jerry Zimmerman’s a real pianist, Chris whispered. "He played Other Dances last night, with Baryshnikov and Makarova."

Steph had never seen Other Dances, but she knew it was one of Jerome Robbins’ piano ballets, with the piano onstage. She daydreamed that someday she would call those people Misha and Natasha and Jerry. After all, ballet was a first-name world.

But then she saw how difficult the tendu combinations were, and she thought, with a pang of despair, Maybe they’ll always be last names to me.

The barre work was longer than before. The adagio had more balances and turns. The petit allegro was quicker, with five and six beats of the feet during some of the jumps. The grand allegro called for full extensions in the air and feather-soft landings.

The judges took notes on large yellow note pads. From time to time one of them leaned to whisper something in another’s ear. Steph could not tell from their eyes what they were thinking or even which dancers they were watching. Their eyes took everything in, let nothing out. They were experienced eyes, exacting eyes, and they frightened her.

Chris’s group was called, and Steph whispered, Merde.

Chris was nervous and it showed. She rushed combinations, finishing ahead of the music. The pirouettes were weak and twice she turned en dedans instead of en dehors.

Yet for all the nervousness, the basics were there. The movement of the arms was graceful. The feet stayed arched and the spine never stiffened. She moved lyrically, even in the mistakes. Steph envied her balance in arabesque: without the slightest hint of rush or unsteadiness, Chris extended fully, and it seemed she could have held the position for all eternity.

Marius Volmar motioned the dance master over and whispered to him.

Girls, if you please, the dance master said, we’ll take that arabesque balance once again.

When Chris came back to sit Steph whispered, Volmar likes you. I saw him whisper to Pat McBride.

Chris was fretful and fidgety. She pulled roughly at her laces. I danced like an elephant.

You were wonderful! Steph cried.

No. I was nervous.

What Steph felt was worse than nervousness. By the time her group was called her body was tense and her développés weren’t anywhere near what they’d been in rehearsal and her balances wobbled like sick gyroscopes.

I flunked, she whispered to Chris afterward.

But you were beautiful! Chris said.

Steph stared at the blue eyes, wide set in the pink-white face, and she saw the utter honesty of a child. They sat together against the wall and waited through the last groups and then they waited in throat-choking silence for the verdict.

Patricia McBride seemed to be totaling up points on her pad. Marius Volmar sat with his arms crossed as though his mind were made up. Dorcas Amidon and Jean-Pierre Bonnefous conferred, whispering. Occasionally a glance or a pencil pointed. Heads nodded. Heads shook. Faces did not smile.

The room seemed very small and tight and hot. Watches could be heard ticking in pockets and bags.

The dancers’ minds raced back through time, through the ten years of turned-out legs and arched feet and bent bodies, the ten years of class after school and class on Saturday, the ten years of never having time for parties or even for friends, the ten years of sweat and sacrifice and never giving up, the ten years’ preparation for this moment.

And now they prayed.

Marius Volmar handed the dance master a piece of yellow paper. The dance master read off the numbers of the candidates who had won scholarships. There were ten. Of the three hundred ninety who had spent half their lives in preparation and hope, ten had made it.

Chris’s number came third and she stifled back a yelp.

Steph’s number came heart-poundingly, agonizingly last and she didn’t bother to stifle back her yelp. She screamed with unbelieving happiness and hugged Chris and ran to tell her mother.


ANNA WAS SICK WITH relief. She hugged Steph and whirled her around. "Didn’t I tell you—didn’t I tell you?"

I couldn’t have done it without you, Mom.

Come off it. You did the footwork. All I did was the nagging

A girl had stepped quietly out of the crowd and stood two feet from them. She held a fistful of five- and ten-dollar bills crunched in one hand. It took Anna an instant, and then she remembered. She had mistaken the girl for Steph. But that had been a trick of backlighting. Now she could see there was hardly any resemblance. The hair was dark blond, and without the barrette it hung straight to the shoulders. The eyes had a vacant, staring blue innocence and the nose was a little upturned thumb of a thing you’d see on a child’s doll.

Excuse me, Steph, the girl said. I don’t have a dime for the phone. The hand holding the money made a jerky movement as though to exchange it all for ten cents.

Oh—sure. Steph stretched an arm into her shoulder bag, and after an instant’s burrowing beneath the canvas out came a dime.

Thanks. I have to tell my mother I passed.

Anna watched the girl edge her way across the crowded vestibule. Steph, she said thoughtfully, who is that girl?

Her name’s Christine. She’s nice.

She passed?

She passed.

Anna watched the girl drop a dime into the pay phone. The lips were puckered in an odd pout and the chin was weaker than Steph’s, tiny like a cat’s. Anna wasn’t sure a girl could get anywhere in dance with a chin like that. Where’s she from?

I don’t know, Steph said.

Anna thought of all that money clenched in a nervous fist. Fifty dollars cash and the girl didn’t have a dime. A dime meant a local call, so the mother had to live in New York. But she hadn’t even come to her daughter’s audition. Anna couldn’t figure it.

She talks nicely, Anna said. Educated.

I guess she’s my first ballet friend.

Anna stared. Same height. A little bit the same build. Otherwise no resemblance between the two girls at all. Still she remembered that instant of confusion through the observation window and she couldn’t shake a slightly eerie feeling.

Go change, honey, she said. Let’s celebrate. I’ll buy you a shrimp salad at the Theater Pub.

When Steph went into the ladies’ room Chris was standing with a handful of paper towel bunched to her face.

Hurt your eye? Steph asked.

I can’t join the school. Chris’s voice was clogged and weeping and there was a pair of almost new ballet slippers in the trash basket.

Steph was stunned. But why not?

My mother says I can’t live in New York alone. She says there are plenty of ballet schools in Chicago.

"Schools, sure. But ballet is here."

Oh, Steph, I was so sure—if I proved I was good—

"And you are good, Steph said, and you did prove it and your parents have to let you join the school. That’s all there is to it."

Chris shook her head. Her eyes were red and swollen and miserable. I can’t force them.

"And they can’t force you."

They can, Steph. They can.

There was surrender in Chris and it made Steph angry. She had seen Chris dance and she knew Chris was strong and she knew Chris had it in her to fight these parents. All she needed was a little faith in herself.

Are these your shoes? Steph pulled the ballet slippers out of the trash.

They were.

They still are and there’s still some dance left in them. Come on.

She took Chris to the vestibule where Anna was waiting. She explained the situation. Anna’s eyes exploded in disbelief.

"Your mother what? She what? Does she know how many girls that school turns down?"

Chris shook her head. Anna stared at this child, timid and weeping and caved in. It wasn’t her child but it was still a child and something in her bled for it.

"She doesn’t come to your audition, she doesn’t let you join the top ballet school in the world, you call that a mother? And then a collision took place in Anna’s head. Morality crashed headlong into practicality and practicality flicked out a spark of inspiration. Anna had an idea. Two birds with one stone. Where is this mother of yours?"

At the Hotel Pierre, Chris said.

I want to talk to her.

A tall swift woman with ash-blond hair headed them off at the entrance hall. Christine, go put on a clean dress this minute.

Chris introduced Anna and Steph to her mother. They gave me a lift from the audition.

Mrs. Avery wore a sapphire pendant and it matched the eyes that raked Anna up and down. That was very kind of you. Christine, your father has guests. Now will you please get out of those filthy clothes before anyone sees you.

Anna spoke up. Steph, go help Chris. I want to talk to Mrs. Avery.

I’m sorry, Mrs.—I really don’t have time. Mrs. Avery tossed a nod toward the drawing room. Guests stood about in groups with drinks and cigarettes in their hands, talking in voices that were still clipped, not yet drunk. Maids circulated with trays of tiny sandwiches. Anna smelled more money than she’d ever smelled in one place before.

Do you know how unhappy you’ve made your daughter? Anna said. This could have been the happiest day of her life.

I don’t care to discuss it.

If you’d seen her cry, believe me, you’d care.

I’ve seen Christine cry, thank you.

And so have I, Mrs. Avery. And so did half that school.

You’re very kind to concern yourself, but you don’t understand the situation and you don’t know Christine.

I don’t need to know Chris. I like her. And I want to help.

There’s no way you can help.

My girl’s a dancer, your girl’s a dancer. I can help. Now let’s go somewhere quiet and sit down for thirty seconds.

Mrs. Avery’s silk print dress pulled itself taut across the narrow, almost visible bones of her shoulders and hips. There was no movement except the slow turning out of her lower lip. Anna felt a surge of impatience.

Mrs. Avery, I’m not doing this for my own fun.

Mrs. Avery stared at her a very long moment. I’m sorry. You’re very kind and I’m not very polite, am I? She took Anna through a doorway and into a bedroom. She closed the door. The words came in a tight rush. My husband and I are at the ends of our ropes with that girl. We don’t want Christine to be a dancer.

So why did you let her get this far?

We never intended to. It happened so gradually. Day by day, year by year. We never imagined it would turn out this way. Her eyes met Anna’s for one instant of naked pleading, then fell in embarrassment. I haven’t the right to bore you with all this.

Bore me. Come on. Anna smoothed the already smooth corner of a twin bed and settled herself down for a good listen. She was interested. Other people’s problems were never dull.

It’s strange, Mrs. Avery said. You always hear of people having trouble with the adopted child.

She’s adopted?

No. She’s our natural child—our only natural child. We had her first, and she was born sick, and the doctors said—don’t have any more. So we adopted Sammy and Ruthie. They’re wonderful children. They’ve never given us any trouble at all. But Christine—she’s been an agony for us.

Somehow Anna couldn’t feel sorry. This woman’s dress and jewelry and this penthouse and those maids in the other room didn’t look like agony to Anna. So Mrs. Avery had a little trouble with one kid; at least she called it trouble. So what? She sure wasn’t having any trouble with her bank account.

"Christine’s loved dance ever since she was a child. It was the only thing that seemed to bring her out of herself. She’d sit in a corner of her room—four years old—never moving, never talking. We weren’t sure she even knew how to talk."

Mrs. Avery moved to the window and stood gazing down at the park.

"One day the radio was on—a concert of some sort, I forget. She began moving. The nurse called me—‘Mrs. Avery, she’s moving her feet!’ Suddenly she was dancing. She was alive. I was so happy I wanted to cry."

Mrs. Avery’s forehead wrinkled. Her voice shrank to a mono-unclasped. There was a gold rattle of bracelets.

After that she asked for music. She actually said the words. ‘Music, please, music.’

She had manners.

We gave her a phonograph. We gave her records. She laughed and she danced. Overnight she was a normal child. Almost normal. The doctors said, ‘Put her in dance class. Keep her there. It will be therapy. It will help.’ We were so relieved we didn’t think.

Mrs. Avery’s forehead wrinkled. Her voice shrank to a monotone.

In kindergarten she did eurhythmics. In first grade we started her in elementary dance. By the time she was ten she was in the children’s division of a professional ballet school. She kept moving up to the next level. Always the next level. ‘The next will be the last,’ we kept telling ourselves. But the teachers kept saying she had talent.

Teachers always say that. They have to earn a living too.

Mrs. Avery looked at Anna. The eyes of a complete stranger were fixed on Anna Lang and spilling tears. Mrs. Avery blotted her cheeks with the back of her hand.

"But she does have talent. That’s the terrible part of it."

Mrs. Avery—what do you and your husband want out of that girl?

We want her to be well and happy.

She can’t be well and happy and dance?

Two miles from Evanston we have one of the best neurological institutes in the world. Mrs. Avery sank onto the edge of a chair. Her voice seemed to fight its way up through layers of time and sadness. Christine goes once every twelve weeks for a complete examination. Twice a year doctors inject dye into an artery of her brain. They track it on an X-ray scanner. They test every reflex. They measure the level of every mineral in her blood.

What’s her problem?

It’s called Petersen’s syndrome. It happens mostly in people with Scandinavian backgrounds. Mrs. Avery exhaled. Her pendant caught the bright penthouse sunlight and sparkled. They think it’s genetic. She’s had it since birth. When she was born—she didn’t cry. Can you imagine a baby not crying?

You’re complaining?

"If a baby can’t cry, it dies."

All right, she needs medicine, she needs checkups. What’s the hassle? She can get all that in New York.

A professional dancer has to tour.

Anna hesitated a moment. And who says she’s a professional?

Why couldn’t she have failed the audition? Mrs. Avery’s voice clenched. Why does she have to be a dancer? Can’t she just go to college like other girls? Can’t she just marry and be happy? She doesn’t even have boy friends!

Anna frowned. Can we keep this simple? We’re talking about ballet school, period. And for every hundred girls that get as far as your daughter, not three make it any further.

And if she’s one of the three?

Anna had listened closely, all eyes and nods. She had caught enough of Mrs. Avery’s gist to know the direction her answer should take. Look, Mrs. Avery—I saw your girl dance. Now it was only an audition, and probably she was nervous. But confidentially, I don’t think you have much to worry about.

I’m not sure I follow you.

No flow. Your daughter doesn’t flow.

Mrs. Avery sat suddenly very still in her chair. What are you saying?

Okay. There’s more to ballet than knowing the positions and the steps. Any idiot with a memory can do that. You have to make one step lead into the next. You have to phrase. Like music. You don’t sing one note at a time. You put them together and you get a melody, right? Or talking. No one talks. Like. This. Well, your daughter breaks her phrases.

Mrs. Avery was squinting at Anna, squinting hard. Her plucked eyebrows came down in a wedge.

I’m not criticizing, Anna said quickly. Each individual step is great. Fantastic. A knockout. She has a beautiful body and she must have had terrific teachers. But she doesn’t put it together. Looking at her is like flipping through snapshots in a how-to book.

Christine is a bad dancer?

Not bad, I didn’t say bad. Chris is good. And so are two thousand other girls that come crawling out of Kansas every year. Being good isn’t good enough. To be a ballerina you have to be great.

"And I suppose your girl is great?"

How do I know? I’m only her mother.

Mrs. Avery drew herself up sharply; and then the breath

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  • (4/5)
    Stephanie and Christine share a dream, to become ballet dancers. After meeting at an audition for a prestigious school, they become fast friends. While Stephanie's mom is overbearing, Christine's parents are distant and uninterested in her career choice. After finishing ballet school, they are accepted into different ballet companies but eventually Stephanie joins the more prestigious company that Christine belongs too.Overall, this was a very interesting and engaging book. The changing dynamics between Stephanie and Christine were interesting to watch throughout time and conflict. I do think the book was a bit too long, at places it seemed to move slowly, which could have been fixed with more critical editing. Overall, well recommended.
  • (5/5)
    I discovered this book over twenty years ago in the public library. I was in 7th or 8th grade and I had a voracious appetite for reading and had already read through several Stephen Kings, all of the available Christopher Pikes, most of the R.L. Stines... well, you can see the type of book I was reading back then. But I was looking for something different.. something I could really get lost in. I found this hard-cover, largely nondescript book somewhere on one of the back walls. I was with my best friend who was newly obsessed with the Clan of the Cave Bear series, which I couldn't get into. I started reading this and never looked back. I often think of it as the first non-horror book I really enjoyed.Fast forward about 18 years and I'm feeling particularly nostalgic. I am certain that somewhere in the back of my head the title of "that one book that was SO good" was Ballerina. I start in on Google, amazon, goodreads, biblio, etc. I really searched. I could not find it. Until I thought... you know, maybe it IS that out-of-print one by Edward Stewart. I ordered two copies - just in case.How pleased I was when it not only WAS that book, but that upon reading it again as a lawyer in her early thirties, I discovered that it was JUST AS GOOD. Such a well done novel that simultaneously makes the ballerina world look enrapturing, exciting, and devastating. It delves into the pain, the politics, the pressure. And it also brings the reader with it into the highs, the accomplishments, the glory.I highly recommend this book.
  • (4/5)
    This is one of those books that's supposed to be a crappy, popular fiction, not-much-better-than-a-Danielle-Steel kind of book, but actually manages to be very satisfying and good. Stewart delves into the world of New York City ballet from the view of two young girls who audition for a large dance company and ultimately become professional ballerinas. Along with a riveting plot line, the author manages to create a certain melancholic aura that pervades the entire novel. He shows that while the world of ballet can be glamorous and addictive, it can also be filled with disappointment, resentment and pain.